A Girl Named Allison

4

I regain consciousness with my chin resting on my chest. My head hurts like a sonofabitch. I'm seated in an upright position, my wrists and ankles cuffed to the frame of a simple wooden chair. I'm still in the warehouse. A new lamp casts its artificial glow, illuminating a circle about twelve feet in diameter. Beyond that is darkness. Utter black. There could be anything out there and my imagination gleefully suggests a few nasties.

"Savannah?"

Nothing. Just the echo of my voice in the cavernous warehouse.

"Hello? Anyone here?"

The scrape of boots against concrete from behind me. I twist my head round and catch a glimpse of well-worn boots and khaki army fatigues. He - I'm pretty sure it's a he - stays out of the circle of light until directly in front of me. Then he steps forward, allowing me to see his face.

My breath catches in my throat.

John Connor.

There are so many stories about this man it's hard to separate myth from fact.

His mother, the equally legendary Sarah Connor, is supposed to have had a premonition about the War and raised her son to become a warrior.

Only John Connor can reprogram terminators to do his bidding.

He's the Chosen One. But chosen by whom?

And on and on.

It's enough to give a fella an inferiority complex.

"John Connor, I presume?" I ask in as steady a voice as I can muster.

"Vincent Savage."

"I prefer Vinny."

"I'm sure you do."

"It's an honour you even know my name."

"There's no honour in what you did. Or tried to do."

"Listen, I wasn't planning on harming the girl."

He waves me to silence.

"Savannah already talked. Weaver had no right interfering in my business."

"Is she okay?"

"I sent her home with orders to stay there. And a warning for her mother. My patience has limits."

"I was told we were saving Allison Young's life. That in three days she'd be captured by Skynet, tortured and killed."

I expect Connor to scoff, tell me what a dupe I've been listening to a machine. Instead he nods.

"Actually, it's more like two days."

"You - know?"

"It's a date I've been dreading."

"But if you know surely you're not gonna let it happen?"

He turns away and I realise he is gonna let it happen.

"You sonofabitch. She's just a girl."

"I know precisely what she is. And what's at stake."

"And what's that?"

"Billions of lives. The chance to change things. Again. Prevent Judgement Day from ever happening."

"And how will letting Allison Young to die accomplish that?"

"I don't need to explain myself to the likes of you, Savage. You've never had to make an executive decision, a judgement call, in your life. This is beyond your imagining. You can't ask me anything I haven't asked myself over and over. Be grateful for that because it means you'll sleep at nights."

I test my binds. They don't give an inch.

"What about me?"

"Savannah begged me to spare your life. I'm not without mercy. My people at Oakridge aren't seriously injured. I'm told that you're a scavenger, one of the best, if that's not a contradiction in terms; that you don't take sides and by your own dubious standards you're a standup guy. If there was blood on your hands I wouldn't be wasting my breath on you."

"Does that little speech mean you're gonna let me go?"

A curt nod. "There are some provisos. One, if you return to Zeira Corps then you stay there for the duration. Step foot outside and my people have orders to shoot you on sight. Or you can leave California and stay out. Ply your trade elsewhere. Pick a state, any state, just don't interfere in my plans again."

"House arrest or banishment? That's my choice?"

"Take it or leave it."

"Oh I'll take it."

"Thought you would." He moves towards the door. "Oh, I almost forgot. Savannah was most insistent I give you this." He throws the laser torch she used to quell the T-800 at my feet. "It appears to be a low-grade laser. She said you'd know what to do with it."

"Hey! Aren't you gonna untie me?"

"That's a wooden chair. You're a big strong guy. Father was a boxer I understand. You should be able to break free in a few hours."

"A few hours! And if I don't?"

"Then you're shit out of options."

He ignores the rest of my entreaties and increasingly desperate pleas. The door opens and closes. I hear the sound of a vehicle starting up and being driven away. Then it's silent, save for my panicky breathing. Man, do I land myself in some pickles.

I spend the next hour or so pogoing up and down trying to break apart the chair under me. The cuffs chafe my wrists so bad my hands are soon slippery with blood. The chair remains intact. It's a tough little fucker and no mistake. I scream with frustration before realising there might be terminators on the prowl outside and I'm a sitting duck. Literally.

Maybe Connor meant it to end like this. A long, slow death from thirst and starvation, my strength gradually ebbing away.

"Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!"

I nearly topple over and that sobers me up pretty damn toot sweet. If I fall there'll be no prospect of escape.

"Okay, Vinny, think it over. Use that brain of yours. Smart like a fox, remember?"

I tilt the chair slightly so that I can bring my full weight to bear by isolating two legs of the chair instead of four. Forward, up and down. Forward, up and down.

"C'mon! C'mon!"

Finally after what seems an eternity, the front chair legs snap off and I'm able to stand up at last. I cross to the wall of the warehouse and slam the remains of the chair repeatedly against the solid structure.

The chair disintegrates and I'm free.

I pocket the laser torch and take a peek outside. By the height of the sun it's mid-afternoon. I was hoping I'd find the Humvee out here, fueled and ready to roll. No such luck. I've been left nothing. Not even a water canteen. Connor's not the hospitable type.

I judge which direction is west and lurch away from the warehouse. My legs feel stiff and my arms ache from my exertions. There's still a long way to go.

Best get started then.

-0-

It takes me two and half days to cover the fifty miles to Redondo Beach. Mostly it's uneventful if not particularly pleasant. There's little to eat and my water supply is puddles and blocked drainage culverts.

I'm beginning to think I've made it when five miles from Zeira Corps HQ I run into a terminator. My luck, eh?

A triple-8 emerges from a ruined building right in front of me, spotting me at once. I have an overhwhelming urge to turn tail and run. It'd be a short and fatal race in my enfeebled condition. Instead I stand my ground and point Savannah's little gadget at the thing advancing towards me. My hands are trembling so much I can barely keep it aimed at its eyes.

Just when I think nothing's happening, the T-888 slows and stops. I keep the red laser light pointed directly at its irises. Then it speaks.

"Catherine Weaver?"

"Vinny Savage. I'm on official Zeira Corps business."

Man, I hope this thing doesn't have an expiration date.

I get no smile like before but its next utterings are like music to my soul.

"You may proceed."

I fight the urge to run. I walk at normal pace for fifty yards then can't resist a peek behind me.

The T-888 is gone.

-0-

I stand in front of the gates at Sea World and allow the security cameras to give me the once over. Thirty seconds later the gates swing open. I offer a smile and a weary salute to my unseen benefactor.

Savannah Weaver runs out to meet me when I'm halfway across the compound. Such is the state I'm in she almost bowls me over as she throws herself into my arms.

"Vinny! Oh God, I was so worried! Connor wouldn't let me hang around and pick you up."

"I understand, sweetie."

"God, you look like shit warmed over."

She has a way with words does Savannah.

-0-

I eat a hearty meal for three, down my bodyweight weight in fluids and go to bed. Alone. I'm only interested in sleep. There's a first time for everything.

I sleep until noon the next day. When I wake up Catherine Weaver is standing at the foot of my bed.

"You're awake at last, Mr Savage."

"So it appears. Unless this is a nightmare."

"Very droll. I'm disappointed with you, Mr Savage. Very disappointed."

"One tiny mistake. I should've dumped her backpack. For want of a nail, eh?"

"The kingdom was lost. Indeed. It may interest you to learn that Allison Young was captured by Skynet forces twenty-four hours ago. Fate presently unknown."

I remain silent. So Connor wasn't fooling around. That psycho sonofabitch.

"Why do I get the impression Allison Young was just a pawn in some bizarre game between you and Connor."

"A pawn? Yes, I suppose that is an apt description. Though it is no game. The fate of Allison Young is pivotal to human and machine destinies alike."

"Ironic that you, a machine, should want her alive while Connor, a human, should want her dead."

"It's a complicated story, Mr Savage. Don't concern yourself with it."

"That's pretty much the same condescending bullshit Connor handed out. Come on, I think I deserve a little more."

"Very well. I have come to the conclusion that there are many and varied timelines. In some Skynet wins the War. In others the Resistance triumphs. In still others there is impasse; an unstable truce."

"Which is the real timeline?"

"It depends on your perspective."

"If Skynet win, somewhere somehow, why do they bother fighting this War?"

"If I told you there was a timeline where you lived the perfect life would you lay down and die in this one?"

"Not a chance."

"Of course not. It's all a matter of perspective."

We regard each other warily. I get the feeling she's toying with me intellectually and it's been going on a very long time now.

"What will you do now, Mr Savage? You feel suffocated here at Zeira Corps. Yet John Connor has effectively banished you from California."

"There are plenty of other states."

"But this is where the action is. Here is where our destinies will be decided."

"Maybe I've had my fill of being at the heart of the action."

"I hardly think that's the case. River changed you, didn't she, Mr Savage. Or possibly awakened some quality dormant inside you that you never knew existed. You enjoyed your chivalrous stint at her side. That's why you agreed to save Allison Young. It had nothing to do with the thousand gallons of gasoline on offer."

"You're wrong. I'm not the chilvalrous type."

"So you insist. You give the impression of a boorish oaf, yet I believe you possess a keen intelligence, certainly more than you are prepared to divulge. Are you afraid people will accuse you of being smart?"

"I find the dumber I act the less chance I'll be judged a threat."

"Most perspicacious of you." A trace of a smile. Gone as soon as it appears.

"I'll be out of your hair in a few days. Just as soon as I'm rested up."

"No rush. Your presence comforts my daughter. I find her happiness is important to me."

"How come?"

"You're not the only one learning about yourself as you go along."

-0-

I stay for three days, ostensibly recuperating from my ordeal but really waiting for something I know will happen.

And it does. On my third day back Catherine Weaver leaves the compound.

Where she goes I have no idea. She goes AWOL every now and then. Maybe she communes with nature, gets back to the Garden like some latter day metallic hippy. Somehow I doubt it. She's generally gone three or four days. It's my big chance, the one I've been waiting for, and I seize it with both hands.

Midnight. I'm sneaking around the basement. This is the nerve centre of the whole Zeira Corps operation. I learnt the access codes and security protocols weeks ago. I wouldn't be much of a scavenger if I didn't know where the valuable stuff is kept, or how to get at it.

I find what I'm looking for and carry it outside, stowing it away in the cavernous trunk of the Humvee. Time to say my goodbyes.

Savannah's the only person to see me off. I guess if you ridicule most of the staff, subject them to your neanderthal japes and prejudices, then you shouldn't be surprised if they could care less if you stay or go, live or die.

"You don't have to go, Vinny."

"Sure I do, babe. I'll go stir crazy if I stay. There's nothing for me here anyway."

"There's me."

"And this is where you belong. It's your home." I give her a hug. "You'll be fine. Stick up to your mom more. You have more leeway there than you think."

"This is because of River, isn't it?"

"Uh - I think Connor deserves most of the blame. He was pretty unequivical I had to rot here or get the hell out of Dodge."

"You've got to get over River. And please don't say she has to get under you first."

"Hey, pretty good line. Have to remember that."

"Oh Vinny!"

Tears. I hate tears. I climb behind the wheel and spark the engine. The throaty V8 responds immediately. I gun it, drowning out Savannah's snivelling. Pure coincidence, naturally.

I drive out of the Zeira Corp compound for the last time. I don't look back.

-0-

The Mojave desert. Its existed for thousands of years and will be probably still be much the same thousands of years from now. Man or machine won't alter that. Sand and scrub and Joshua trees. Change comes slowly if at all to a place like this.

I drive for thirty miles then turn off, steering the Humvee towards one of the canyons. Here I stop, get out and start dismantling the vehicle piece by piece.

It's hot work but I find what I'm looking for after an hour's methodical search. It's wedged between the fuel tank. A small black box. With wires attached. Antenna.

A radio transmitter.

It's once bitten twice shy for me with these things. Who planted it there? My money's on Connor's people. He had the opportunity back at the warehouse. He seemed pretty insistent I stay out of California and this is the logical way to ensure I do. Second pick would be Savannah. I think she really does care about me and I wouldn't put it past her to have one of the geeks install a device so she can monitor where I am day and night. A distant third would be Catherine Weaver. Can't see it myself. I always got the impression I was little more than a half-trained house pet to her, designed to amuse and keep her daughter from finding out what the hell it is she's really up to.

I leave it on top of a well-weathered rock. Maybe the person who planted it will get curious when it never moves and come check. I'll be long gone. Maybe I should leave a message traced in the sand and shale: Vinny Was Here. And Now Isn't. I decide not to bother.

I patch the vehicle up and drive back to the road, going another twenty miles purely to put some distance between me and the bug. Then I steer off-road again, drive the Humvee across the desert hardpan up into another canyon. Here I stop and remove from the trunk the object I stole from the Zeira Corps basement labs.

A time machine.

Oh I know that's a pretty crude description, but that's how I think of it. It's small, black and square and looks pretty sophisticated for a caveman like me to operate. But I watched closely when Weaver used an identical device to send River back to the future, like a cuter, sexier Marty McFly. It's no DeLorean but I think I've got a handle on how it works.

I plug the leads into the Humvee's external power outlet. Little LEDS glow green. Green for go. I know for a fact these things are calibrated for River's time. That's what I'm counting on. I'm hanging my ass out over the ragged edge like never before. Man, love makes you do some crazyass things and no mistake.

I take a last look round then throw the switch.

!JESUS!CHRIST!ALMIGHTY!

The next thing I know I'm crouched over trying to catch my breath. My insides feel like they've been given an almighty squeeze by some unseen force. Oh, and here's the clincher.

I'm stark naked.

How'd that happen? Was I unconscious and someone snuck up and stole my clothes? But why take my kecks? That's plain...weird.

Anyway, my priority is obvious: steal some clothes so little Vinny and the boys aren't flapping in the breeze longer than necessary. Gotta keep those fellas safe and sound otherwise life wouldn't be worth living.

I'm on a metal gantry high above an empty cargo hold. There's a low background hum from some sort of machinery. I also get the sense that there's nothing substantial underneath this vessel except water. Maybe we're docked at a harbour. And if it is a ship then it'll have cabins, crew quarters. Clothes. A weapon. Get the fundamantals right and the rest will surely follow.

I find a cabin soon enough. A man's judging by the smell and the guns just lying around. None of them are models I recognise. But they all have a barrel, magazine and trigger. Point and shoot, that's all I really need to know.

I raid the guy's wardrobe, taking a tee shirt that fits and some pants that don't. Little too long in the leg which suggests my unknown benefactor is taller than me yet no bulkier. Good to know if it comes to a smackdown. Wouldn't want to be too far out of my weight division. Boots fit well enough too. I select one of the pistols on offer and take my leave.

I make my way back to the cargo hold and start nosing around when I hear someone coming. I take the gun out and step back into the shadows and await developments.

It's a girl. Slim brunette maybe my age. Pretty but she'd be prettier if she wasn't wearing a shapeless boiler suit and didn't have oil smudges on her hands and face. Time to introduce myself as only I can.

"Stop right there, honeybuns. I'm not gonna hurt you less you make me. Or ask me nice."

She complies. I get the impression she's more surprised than scared, like this has happened to her before.

"Mister, you be pulling that trigger we'll both be breathing the black and no mistake."

I'm about to ask what this means when someone else joins the party. Tall guy. Short dark hair and a mean excuse for a beard. Got the feeling it's his clothes I've stolen.

"Kaylee, you bin in ma quarters? I'm missing a -"

He spots me. I show him the gun, his gun most likely. Good. He'll know what it can do.

"Gorram, them's ma clothes!"

"Consider it a loan."

"Jayne, where's the cap'tn?" the girl asks.

"Mal's planetside with Wash and Zoe."

"Inara?"

"Away servicin' a client."

"So it's just you, me, Book, the Doc and River."

"River? Did you say River? Is she here?" This is better than I could've hoped.

"You know the young 'un?"

"Yeah, I know her. Bring her to me. Now! No funny business."

"I ain't yer durn skivvy. And that girl ain't so partial to being found, least wise by me."

I level the gun at his head. "Then I suggest you try harder."

He leaves. I wait. The girl - Kaylee? - waits.

"So you and River are acquainted, huh?"

"You might say that."

"Friend or..?."

"Lover? I should be so lucky."

"I was gonna say foe."

The tall guy - Jayne? - returns. No River. Just another stranger, slightly better dressed. White shirt under a waistcoat. Neat dark hair. Clean shaven.

"Who are you?" he asks. "And what d'you want with my sister?"

"Name's Vinny Savage. It's a very long and strange story."

"Wait - you're Vincent? River mentioned you. I thought it was part of a psychotic episode when she went missing, that you were a figment of her imagination."

"I've been called plenty of things, Doc, but never a figment of someone's imagination."

And then there she is...Same floaty dress as I remember. Dark, lank hair. Pouty lips. Bambi eyes...that don't appear to recognise me. Christ, am I that unmemorable? Have I come all this way for...nothing? Then she smiles, those pouty lips part and my heart does the thing they used to sing about in songs listened to on the radio. I drop the gun. The big fella snaffles it up. I barely notice.

River takes my hand and we turn and face the others.

"This is Vincent," she announces simply. "He's my friend. He's good at stealing things that aren't his."

The girl named Kaylee smiles crookedly. "Should fit right in."

-END-

Quite a coincidence Vinny time-hopping aboard Serenity(!)

Weaver's motive in kidnapping Allison? Vinny never finds out so neither do we. I figure she just likes to meddle.

Vinny will return in A Spaceship Named Serenity, a Firefly fanfic.

Next though - more Secret Diary of Cameron Baum...